There were many subjects of discussion about which my memories are vague due to distaste. Barracudas and moray eels were among the themes he would dwell on much too long for my comfort. Among the only undersea creatures that attack humans without provocation, they seemed of particular fascination to him, as I would sit there fidgeting and trying to change the topic to a more pleasant one.
Another depressing subject was Hughes Aircraft, of which he spoke quite often, although I do not recall the details of what he said -- something, I think, about a project invasive of human rights. All that remains in my mind here is a surrealistic visual impression that seems purely imaginary in origin, though associated in his words somehow: greasy airplane parts and scraps of aluminum in a vacant lot. Brother-in-law was forever dwelling on the mundane when he was not preoccupied with the depressing or the bizarre.
"Kerry, have you ever heard the saying, 'Let George do it?'"
In retrospect I wonder if this was a veiled reference to George DeMohrenschildt who, according to his own statements just previous to his death, was involved in the assassination conspiracy.
At that time I was unaware that a man named George DeMohrenschildt was involved in Dallas in discussions with Oswald that could easily have resembled Brother-in-law's talks with me. At least, Oswald seems to have talked with De Mohrenschildt alone at length, and he seemed to come away from those discussions with an attitude that was as ambivalent toward him as mine was toward Brother-in-law.
Sometimes I was successful in returning digression for digression, particularly in the realm of stories about weird people. My tales of Southern California's ample lunatic fringe seemed to entertain Brother-in-law.
Besides Daniel Fry's UFO watchers, there was a religious cult in Box Canyon under the leadership of a Messianic ex-convict calling himself Krishna Venta -- until his followers assassinated him.
"That man had it made," I said. "Not only was he fucking all the women, but he had required all his converts to sign over to him all their earthly possessions when they joined. He said he was not born of woman, because he didn't have a belly button. I figured he must've gotten plastic surgery."
"Kerry, you know how in old Westerns they run the bad guys into a box canyon before rounding them up?"
Also among the more well-known luminaries of Southern California's more eccentric attractions was a television personality named Criswell whose predictions about the future were made in sing-song tones that I found easy to imitate. A close friend of Mae West, he once prophesied she would become President of the United States.
Then there was a tale told by a woman who had lived across the street from us about a strange lady she met at a Tupperware party who had purchased tickets to Venus from the author of a then popular book called The Flying Saucers Have Landed.
Among the most notable lecturers Greg Hill and I had encountered at Understanding were Reinholt Schmidt and Jimmy Valaquez. Schmidt amused us because he said the interplanetary aliens spoke to him in High German and that the numerals on the dials in their saucer were "just regular numbers." When Greg asked, "Why do you suppose they use Arabic numerals just like us?" Schmidt said, "Why, I don't know what other kind of numbers they would use."
Valaquez was a more convincing speaker, but then his story of encountering UFO people was so far-fetched as to require the utmost rhetorical skill. All his aliens dressed like Jesus and wore sandals that were made of living protoplasm that glowed in the dark.
"Remember Eisenhower's farewell address, Kerry, about the danger of what he called the military-industrial complex?" was a question Brother-in-law only asked me once.
"Yeah, I figure Ike was senile by the time he made that speech."
"No, Kerry, there really is a military-industrial complex, and you had best keep that in mind."
"That's right," Slim added. "He ain't lyin'."
"Kerry, if the society you are living in begins to become totalitarian, you will be able to tell," he said more than once, "because, when you attempt to uncover the past, they will say: 'Don't bother with the past; only the future is important.'"
"Yes, William F. Buckley tells a story about Mussolini saying something like that to an American general once." My information was slightly confused.
"You will know it is happening -- when your society is becoming totalitarian -- as soon as they start saying: 'Yesterday's gone. Don't stop thinking about tomorrow.'"
"Just like Mussolini."
"And another thing, Kerry: Do you know where the expression, 'swan song,' comes from? A swan sings its most beautiful song as it is dying."
"You know the angel in the Book of Revelations that rules the world for a thousand years with a rod of iron? What do you figure that could symbolize?"
"Anything you want it to," I replied casually. "That's the advantage of predicting things in vague language: they are bound to come true -- one way or another, sooner or later, if someone interprets them with sufficient ingenuity."
"Rods are used in nuclear energy reactors. They are also used in computers."
"Like I say." I was not very patient with scriptural interpretation, especially since I knew Gary professed to be a pagan, if not an outright atheist.
"I think the Bible would make a good code key for a revolutionary movement, though," he said.
"Yes -- especially since there is one in every prison cell and hotel room in the country."
Whenever he persisted for long in discussing Revelations, I would turn the discussion to my favorite foreign movie, The Seventh Seal, since it drew its imagery from the Biblical Apocalypse.
"I think the mission of this century," I would say, "is to transform religion from the field of philosophy to the realm of the arts."
"You know, Kerry, you aren't going to be able to be too far ahead of your time."
"That's all right with me. My ambition is to be remembered as a man of his own times. Why be a sensitive genius who brags about being misunderstood? That's why I am not afraid to use clichés in my writing. Clichés are the idioms of the common people. Writers who scorn them are snobs."
Both Slim and Brother-in-law looked at me with hearty approval.
"Kerry, I think it would be better for the world if eventually just one ideology -- no matter what it was -- came to predominate everywhere."
"So do I," I said without attaching much importance to my words.
Similar to Brother-in-law's fascination with the Revelation of Saint John the Divine was his fondness for the Oracles of Nostradamus, toward which I displayed equal impatience.
Another of his favorite subjects were recent movies. "Remember in Night of the Hunter, how the preacher had the letters for the words 'LOVE' and 'HATE' tattooed on the fingers of opposite hands?"
"Now that was a movie that said something valid about religion. That preacher was a killer."
"Remember the woman Susan Hayward played in I Want to Live? You know that was based on a true story. Remember how sensual and alive she was and how much people liked her for that reason?"
"Yes! That dance scene with the bongos was fantastic! I saw that when I was at Atsugi, Japan, in Marine Air Control Squadron One. We turned I Want to Live! into a slogan when we rioted in our barracks. I got office hours once for writing it on a post with a laundry marker. An asshole corporal named Curtis reported me. I hated that guy."
"Do you know what cant is?"
I wondered if he he was talking about the German philosopher that Jack, a Marxist-Leninist who hung out with the rest of the radicals at the Ryder Coffee House, liked.
But no. "Cant is a kind of slang used by criminal groups in order to make understanding what they say to each other more difficult for outsiders," Brother-in-law took pains to explain.
"I'm planning to write a novel that deals with, among other things, organized crime in New Orleans. There's so much of it here."
"Yeah. Most people think New Orleans is a French town. Actually, it's a Dago town. Italians are clowns. Hitler never should have accepted them into the Axis. That's one of the reasons he lost the war."
"What about the Japanese?"
"Now the Japanese are clever people," he said. "Among the Asians, they are the Master Race, together with the Chinese. You know, gunpowder and paper were both Chinese inventions."
"Kerry, come over here and sit next to me. I want to tell you something important." I sat on the floor next to the footstool where he was seated, hunched forward with his elbows resting on both knees.
"Now listen." He fixed a fierce glare in my direction. "If there was to be a rebellion in the intelligence community -- and if a man were to find himself in the middle of that rebellion -- and if he were to blow a lot of covers, then those people whose covers were blown would be very angry. And they would need a method of dealing with that anger. So I think that man who exposed them to the government should be taken to sea in a submarine -- and tortured to death."
An awkward silence followed.
"Don't you agree?"
"I guess so," I answered meekly, quickly pushing the whole subject from my thoughts.
There were other subjects that I have dealt with by pushing them away, even more successfully. For example, from the time that I read in Ed Sander's The Family about filmed ritual murders until well into 1976 when I began encountering seemingly unrelated rumors about "snuff films," I failed to remember the weird and disturbing discussion with Slim and Gary about "snuff movies."
Before recalling it clearly, I was saying in relation to the rumors, "That's just the type of thing Slim and Gary would have been into." Yet today I remember vividly the morning Gary asked me what I thought of "snuff films" and then explained to me what they were. I recall exactly where both he and I were sitting in his living room at the time. I remember my intense fear, and how I privately rationalized my pretense of agreement. And I have recollected ever since early in 1977 the exact expression in Gary's eyes as he leered at me wickedly and spoke of building "a network of blackmailed murderers."